Author Archives: Dasi Fruchter

The Lilith Blog

March 14, 2014 by

Purim: An Order Out of Chaos

megillahOut of all the Jewish holidays, I’ve always felt the most ambivalent about Purim. I consider myself to be more of a Sukkot or Passover aficionado, serving grand meals under the stars or crafting experiential moments of peoplehood around an elaborately decorated Seder table. I felt something lacking in the apparent disorderly nature and wackiness of Purim. Yet, I can actually weave the narrative of my life through the events that took place on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar. What I thought was disorder was actually a path– the path in which I continue to journey as a leader, a learner, and a student at Yeshivat Maharat.

The young Purim. One of my earliest memories happened on Purim. It was in the synagogue social hall as we prepared to read the megillah. I remember the air smelled vaguely like packaged hamantaschen and I was holding a homemade noisemaker in my hand to drown out the name of Haman, who threatened to “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day.” I was proudly dressed as Queen Esther, and my five- year-old self bumped into one of my tiny friends. She was also dressed as Queen Esther, and she was wearing a pair of those tiny high heels that you could get at a toy store, a costume princess dress with a tiara, and plastic clip-on earrings that dangled to her neck. She sat on the edge of a chair, her glittery feet dangling off the edge. I looked at her with such admiration, coveting all of her accessories. In my mind, in all of her royalty, she could have been coated in diamonds.

Purim, ten years old. My mother was involved in youth work, and every year she fashioned a fabulous Purim party for teens and their families. That year, however, one of the teens came to the party very, very, drunk–and we needed to stay late to make sure he got home. As an anxious child, I remember pacing back and forth and breathing shallowly as the police came to examine him and look in his car. Why was he lying on the floor and yelling? I felt out of control and frightened. My mother made order out of the chaos–I watched as my mother skillfully dealt with the situation and waited for the teen’s parents to arrive before we left for home. I watched from a distance, admiring, fearing.

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The Lilith Blog

February 27, 2014 by

At Compassion’s Edge

vawaThe snow that doesn’t quite seem to stop falling this winter was also falling consistently throughout the winter of my tenth grade year of high school. As a teen, as gunmen shot in the suburbs of DC near my home and wars raged around the world, I was very bothered by the “state of things”, and I just wanted to do something about it. So, the night before Chanukah, I decided to prepare gifts for my friends at the day school I attended. I printed little cards that read:

Happy Chanukah! A Donation has been made to American Jewish World Service in your honor.

I taped a candy to each one (poorly, I recall. many of them fell off) and handed them out in school to my friends, feeling like I had done my part to fix the world that seemed so broken to me, and that didn’t seem to respect the values I grew up holding: that each person was made in the image of God, and deserves to live a life free of violence and oppression.

Early on in my college experience, though doing Jewish social change work is what continued to make my heart beat faster, I decided to begin to largely shut out issues of global justice from my consciousness. I had become simply overwhelmed by the volume of things that needed fixing around the world, and I was reminded of my high school classmates, as they had rattled off skeptical reactions to my idealistic donation-making approach that Chanukah. I would never get anything done, they had said. 

I struggled with this overwhelming feeling, because I so deeply cared about justice for everyone. But eventually, I decided that, while I wouldn’t be totally silent on global issues, I would stop seeking to be on committees that worked to solve issues thousands of miles away. There were too many stories close to me that I wanted to be a part of transforming.

Furthermore, I wasn’t able to compartmentalize all of the oppression and suffering I saw in the world, but I knew deeply and sincerely that I wanted to be a part of the team that was making the world a better place. So, in my first efforts, I was working on shifting injustices within a twenty-mile radius. I knew I could be strategic and effective on a local level, and that others felt the same way about their potential impact in jetsetting and changing the world on a much larger scale. We would each have our spheres and we would support one another in forging social change.

This year, this calculus shifted unexpectedly for me. I became a part of the American Jewish World Service inaugural Global Justice Fellowship cohort, and we were headed to the Thai/Burma border in early January. I haven’t traveled much; it’s always made me a little tense. There is something about how airplanes are precariously floating in the air, how once you get where you’re going, the food hits your tongue a little differently, and the smells and sounds recall memories that aren’t quite your own. It all feels a little uneasy and unsafe.


The Lilith Blog

July 9, 2013 by

Can We Speak for Ourselves?


Image via gerardmontigny

I want to paint you a picture of my Yeshiva: Yeshivat Maharat. Piles of giant books are stacked on the table like precarious dominoes, and pens and laptops litter the table. There is a steady hum of learning with the occasional burst of “And Abaye says what?!” As it draws close to 3:30, when it comes time for the instructor to review the holy material with us, we take notes furiously and listen.

While, like in many parallel Orthodox Yeshivot, we struggle with understanding Halachic (Jewish law) nuances between great Talmudic sages, we also battle with the very nature of the text itself. There we are, day in and day out, a group of feminist scholars and leaders, in a movement seeking to change the gender landscape of Orthodox Jewish leadership. Yet we sit at our tables in front of books where the voices of women barely appear. When they do, it is certainly not as serious partners in the development of the Halachic discourse. 

So we have a jar. In this jar we put a quarter, or a dollar, or whatever seems appropriate when a woman’s voice seems egregiously absent from a conversation in the text. For example, you can walk into our classroom one afternoon as we explore passages where Rabbis discuss the nature of what was likely the uterus. One Rabbi proposes that it resembles a bag of coins with an opening at the top. No, another Rabbi exclaims, what about a home with a door?

You’ll certainly find me tossing quarters into the jar during that conversation.

This summer, I’m exploring “menstrual purity” laws, and it is in these texts that I feel particularly excluded from the conversation. This past week, I was sitting at my desk late at night, flipping through a more modern book on laws for married women around their periods. In the book, I marked the pages where the author wrote “Ask a Rabbi,” so that I could understand areas of the law about which I will eventually be consulted on. I was disturbed, however, when one paragraph advised the woman reading the book by telling her that if she was uncomfortable showing her stained undergarments or cloths to her male rabbi, she should give them to her husband to bring to the Rabbi for her. I shook my head with a familiar frustration. Here we go again, excluding women from the process. 


The Lilith Blog

March 25, 2013 by

I Will Never Stop Asking

In the future, when your child asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand
. (Deut. 6: 20-21)

When my sixth grade teacher asked a question, I kept my hand raised silently in the air until she called on me. If I got the answer right, I felt my skin glow gold. I was well-liked and I felt smart. If I got the answer wrong, I usually remained silent for a little while afterward, ashamed. But at least my hand had been valiantly and silently raised. I quietly groaned if someone interrupted the teacher with a silly question instead of offering an answer.

I think a lot about questions around this time of year, with the approach of Passover. Miriam, Yocheved, Shifra, and Pua’, the heroic women of the Exodus story, are not the only reason that Passover can be called a feminist holiday. I would argue that the centrality of questions in this Spring festival are also a integral part of Passover’s feminist undertones — after all, an important part of being a feminist is asking questions and not taking things for granted. My bookshelf is littered with my favorite books on women and power, women negotiating and women sitting at the table: women asking smart questions.

As a dear teacher David Elcott once said, the Passover seder is where we perform our first volitional act as Jews–we ask the four questions. At the seder, we turn everything upside down so that, indeed, there are questions to be asked. Dozens of them. Thinking of this, I intentionally took a bird’s eye view one year and watched my father in his white robe lead our family seder, mumbling in Hebrew as the guests took a simultaneous bite out of a matzo-mortar sandwich, and as my siblings and I looked each other apprehensively to insure that indeed, we were each leaning to the left and not to the right. I thought about how much these seemingly bizarre actions alone could generate the richest lists of questions.

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The Lilith Blog

February 20, 2013 by

Rabbis in Red Lipstick

There are many things that play an important part in my morning ritual — a nice hot drink, a shower, morning prayers. One of the most important elements of my morning routine, however, is putting on my red lipstick. There is something so satisfying about applying the final smear of the creamy red across my lips before I walk out of the door–I feel instantly like a brighter, better version of myself.

My red lips have been my trademark for the last several years, and though the shade has varied, it’s always been red, red, and red. I’ve ventured from candy pink to seductive purples, and my personal favorite and general default, a true candy-apple red. In college, I spent hours defending my cosmetic habits to my feminist friends, who accused me of buying into patriarchal conceptions of beauty. I knew, however, that they didn’t quite understand why the contents of that tiny red tube were so vital. It was about making an active choice about my own gender expression in a way that made me feel all at once powerful, beautiful and uniquely feminine.

These days, as a person embarking on a lifelong journey of Jewish professional leadership — beginning my studies towards non-profit management at New York University’s Wagner School for public service — I continue try my hardest to bring my authentic self to the table as often as I can. Be it at a fundraising dinner, a board meeting, or in the office, I attempt to be fully present, bringing the traits I know to be my strengths — my energy, my genuine desire to connect with others and my drive to create inclusive community spaces — to my work. Oddly enough, the lipstick has become an essential part of making this happen. It is a final, dramatic touch — a flash of vibrant color — that urges me to truly turn up in the fullest way possible, wherever I am.